Not all Omega 3’s are created equal- and you need all of them!
The 3 forms of Omega 3 fats we are looking at today- ALA, DHA & EPA
Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) comes from plant based sources and is considered essential, meaning your body can’t make it, so you need to get ALA into your diet through the foods you eat. Sources of ALA are flaxseeds, walnuts, chia seed, hemp seeds, mustard oil, wild rice. ALA is also found in Spirulina and in minimal quantities in some green vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts, kale, spinach, and salad greens.
ALA is the starting point to the production of the longer chain Omega 3’s of EPA & DHA, given this info, you may be tempted to skip right past this step of consuming ALA rich foods in the quest for optimal nutrition, straight on to your cold water EPA DHA containing fish- in the words of grand master flash- don’t do it! It’s important not to underestimate the importance of ALA in itself. Adequate intake of ALA has been linked in multiple studies to prevention of coronary heart disease. So dont make the mistake of thinking a couple of pieces of Salmon per week will enable you to bypass this vegetarian piece to the Omega 3 brain puzzle- ALA is also a required essential nutrient for optimal health.
Eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acids (DHA) are mainly found in fish such as herring mackerel tuna salmon shellfish and krill. To give you an idea of the importance specifically of DHA- DHA is the primary structural component of your brain and retina- a tad important wouldn’t you say.
Your body can make small quantities of EPA and DHA from the ALA you consume, however when i say small, lets get that into perspective- as little as 1% conversion. This is why you are advised to consume specific EPA DHA rich foods- fish sources omega 3’s. DHA is found in cod liver oil, fatty fish, and in smaller concentrations in the organs and fats of land animals.
Note to the Vegetarians:
With this understanding that there is just minimal conversion of ALA into EPA and DHA, it is easy to see why Vegetarians have to be exceptionally diligent in getting high amounts of good quality ALA fats into their diet. And on top of all that- one must remember that vegetarian sourced ALA will come with an Omega 6 content. There is always an Omega 3 : Omega 6 ratio with vegetarian sourced Omegas. Therefore, one must again, ensure that the ratio is equal. Our current western diet has us at a ratio of 1:20 that is 1 part Omega 3: 20 parts Omega 6- Holy heart disease fat man! And that’s us carnivores- a vegetarians Omega 3:6 ratio may have Omega 6 numbers much higher. Elevated Omega 6 within the body increases inflammation and as i have discussed in previous articles, when it comes to your health- inflammation is public enemy number 1. No matter what type of health problem you are facing- chances are, it began with inflammation. Inflammation is an internal irritation, a cascade of chemicals that causes our whole body to breakdown. So go easy on those Omega 6’s, Avocados, Olive Oils, Sesame seeds- they are all wonderfully nutritious and great for our health- but as with all things- a balance must be found.